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March 6, 2014

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This blog is now inactive, but you can follow me on Twitter @DeanMikeSimons.

November 26, 2012

Appreciating Jurors (and Judge Anthony Marano ’69)

With Rosalie Marano, Judge Anthony Marano, Nassau Chapter President Tom Foley ’93, and Alumni Association President Alan Hodish ’89

Earlier this month, the Nassau Chapter of our Alumni Association honored New York State Supreme Court Judge Anthony Marano, the Administrative Judge of Nassau County.  The reception at the Milleridge Inn was a lovely celebration of Judge Marano’s dedicated career as a public servant and his loyal support of St. John’s.Earlier that same day, Judge Marano had asked me to speak as part of “Juror Appreciation Day” at Nassau County Supreme Court.  I welcomed the opportunity to reflect a bit on what jury service means to me.  Here is what I told the several hundred assembled jurors:

I’ve been a lawyer for 23 years, I’ve been a law professor for 14 years, and I’ve been a law dean for the past four years.  But I’m here today not as a lawyer, or a law professor, or a dean, but as a citizen and a resident of Nassau County.

In a democracy, there are two main ways in which we get to participate in our government – by voting on election day and by serving as jurors.

I hope you all voted last week.  I did, and I get a special thrill whenever I do.  As Bob Scheiffer said during one of the Presidental debates: “Voting makes you feel big and strong.” When I vote, I feel the power of self-government.

But that power – the power of the vote – is indirect.  When I vote, my vote is only one of thousands or millions.  And it’s natural to wonder whether my one vote really makes a difference.  Moreover, when we vote, we’re not making the decisions about how to run our country or our county or our town.  We are electing other people to make those decisions for us.  That’s how representational democracy works – the people have the power, but that power is indirect.  It is our elected officials who make the law, who make the decisions for us.

But when we are jurors, it is very different.  When we go into the jury box, there are not millions or thousands of votes.  There are six or eight or twelve.  So there’s no question that our vote counts.  And, we’re not electing someone else to make the decision.  We are doing it ourselves.  Being on a jury is participatory democracy at its best.  The judges will run the trial, the lawyers will present the evidence and make their arguments, the judges will instruct us on the law, but the jury will render the verdicts.  Individual citizens – not judges, not government officials, not lawyers – are given the power to decide disputes.  It is an awesome power, a tremendous responsibility, and a wonderful aspect of our democracy.

There is a reason that our legal system gives that power to juries.  And I tell this to my students all the time: because juries are good at it.  It can be easy to be cynical these days, including about government, but the jury system really does work.  There’s something about bringing a group of people together – people with different experiences and different perspectives – and having them listen: listen to the evidence, listen to the lawyers make their arguments, listen to the judge give instructions, and then listen to each other – that leads to good decisions, to fair decisions.  That leads … to justice.  That is what you get to do today, that is what you get to do as jurors: render justice.

October 31, 2012

The Storm and Its Aftermath

Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, but the effects will linger in the New York area for a long time.  Many are without power (and will be for some time), some areas near the coast have been ravaged by flood waters, and mass transit is struggling to restore service.  Some people are dealing with much more serious devastation.

The University’s Public Safety and Facilities teams have been working around the clock to get the campus up and running.  The University’s message about the state of things on campus is here.  A message from University President Rev. Donald Harrington is here.

At the Law School, our problems are relatively minor, though they are still preventing us from opening.  Here is the message I sent to the Law School community earlier today:

I hope that all are safe and sound in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  I know that many of you are dealing with storm damage, loss of power, and other disruptions.

Here on campus, damage from the storm is not particularly significant.  However, the Law School currently has partial power only.  A large generator is on site and is being installed at the moment; however, it will likely not be operational in time to open the building for classes tomorrow.  As a result, the Law School will remain closed on Thursday. 

There is a possibility that we will be open on Friday for regularly scheduled classes, but we will not know that until sometime on Thursday afternoon.

We will announce a makeup schedule, which may include adjustments to the final exam schedule, sometime next week.

Thank you for your patience as we work through the many issues raised by the storm.  Stay safe.

The coming days will require more patience and more flexibility.

September 17, 2012

St. John’s in Albany

Honoring Judge Ciparick (Again!)

On September 5, the Albany Chapter of the Law School’s Alumni Association hosted a reception to honor Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick ’67, ’03HON.  It was not the first time we have honored Judge Ciparick this year, and it will not be the last.  Indeed, Judge Ciparick is being feted all throughout the state this year, as she approaches mandatory retirement after nineteen years as an Associate Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.

It was particularly appropriate to honor Judge Ciparick in Albany, where she has served for so long and with such distinction.  And, as an indication of the esteem in which she is held by her colleagues, the entire Court of Appeals joined us for the celebration.  After introductions by Mark O’Rourke, President of the Albany Chapter, there were three speakers: Chief Judge Lippman, me, and Judge Ciparick.  Without any advance coordination, we all sounded the same themes: hard work, service and family.  In my remarks, I told the assembled guests about my Orientation address and the message I had given our students about St. John’s (“We are defined by hard work, we are committed to service, and we treat each other like family.”).  I then noted how Judge Ciparick embodies those values — with her tireless work, dedicated service, and genuine collegiality.  Chief Judge Lippman extolled the same qualities in our dear friend, and then Judge Ciparick spoke movingly about her “families,” including her “Court family” and her “St. John’s family.”

It was a large and diverse group that had assembled to honor Judge Ciparick — Court of Appeals Judges, Third Department Judges, Court employees, and St. John’s alumni, students, and faculty — but we were united in our admiration and affection for Judge Ciparick.

Judge Ciparick and me, flanked by (from left to right) Albany Chapter President Mark O’Rourke ’02, Alumni Board President Alan Hodish ’89, Judge Theodore J. Jones ’72, Judge Susan Phillips Read, Judge Victoria A. Graffeo, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Judge Robert S. Smith, and Judge Eugene F. Piggott, Jr.

March 21, 2012

John Barrett’s Most Recent Law Review Article Featured in the New York Times

Prof. John Barrett’s latest article, just published in the Boston College Law Review, was featured in today’s New York Times (New Look at an Old Memo Casts More Doubt on Rehnquist).  In the article, John and his co-author Brad Snyder (University of Wisconsin Law School) revisit a key moment of Supreme Court nomination history.  In 1952, when the Supreme Court was considering Brown v. Board of Education, law clerk William Rehnquist wrote a memo to his boss, Justice Robert Jackson, arguing that Plessy v. Ferguson should be affirmed.  The memo came to light during Rehnquist’s confirmation hearings in 1971 and almost proved fatal.  Rehnquist’s nomination was saved by his explanation: the memo did not reflect his own personal views, but rather the tentative views of Justice Jackson.  As the Times notes, “Quite a bit of evidence has accumulated over the years to cast doubt on that explanation,” and John’s new article adds more.  In particular, John and his co-author using a newly unearthed memo by another Jackson clerk to reconstruct a lost letter that Rehnquist had written to Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1955.  It is a fascinating tale of stolen documents, historical detective work, and the intersecting lives of three Supreme Court justices. It also raises more questions about whether Justice Rehnquist was truthful in his confirmation hearings. 

read more »

March 14, 2012

Rankings, Measures, and Quality

Below is a message that I sent to our students yesterday about the latest version of the U.S. News law school rankings:

To the Law School community,

As many of you already know, in the U.S. News law school rankings that were released earlier today, St. John’s climbed 16 places to #79.  While it is gratifying to move up, because many people view the rankings as an objective measure of quality, it is also important to remember that all rankings have significant limitations. The U.S. News rankings, in particular, continue to rely on a number of questionable measures and questionable ways of calculating those measures.

Our commitment is to stay focused on the true measure of quality: providing a rigorous education that gives our students the knowledge, skills, and experiences that set them on the path to professional success.  We have made important strides over the past year – including a continued increase in experiential learning opportunities and a major restructuring and expansion of our Career Development Office – and we are determined to continue improving our educational program, all with the goal of improving our students’ employment success.

In the coming weeks, I will provide a more detailed update on recent changes and activities at the law school. In the meantime, I invite you to give me your thoughts and suggestions (  I am always eager for your feedback.

To our alumni and friends, I would make the same invitation.  Please do not hesitate to give me your thoughts, suggestions, and feedback.  Thanks.

February 14, 2012

Learning by Doing: Mock Trial and Client Counseling at St. John’s

Experiential learning can take place in many settings: a classroom, a clinic, an externship, a summer internship. Student competitions also provide an important opportunity for learning by doing.  Although the exercise may not be “real,” the pressure of competition adds a real-world element that can be difficult to replicate in the classroom.  At St. John’s, our mock trial, moot court, and dispute resolution teams have become increasingly active and increasingly successful.

This past weekend saw more success, as one of our mock trial teams from the Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute won the regional competition that qualifies them for the National Trial Competition, which will be held in Texas in March.  Jointly sponsored by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers, the National Trial Competition is one of the premier trial competitions in the country.  Congratulations to competitors Anthony Scotti, Kaitlin McTague and Lena Paxos and coaches  Brian Hughes and Kirk Sendlein.  (As I noted last month, one of our Black Law Students Association mock trial team has advanced to the National BLSA Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition.)

Also this past weekend, the Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution hosted the regional ABA Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition at St. John’s.  Twelve teams from eight area law schools participated, with Albany Law School taking first place, and teams from Brooklyn Law School and St. John’s taking second and third respectively.  Congratulations to the St. John’s students (Julia Kudlacz and Jillian de Chavez) and their coach (Adjunct Professor Dianne Woodburn).

Client counseling competitions provide students with an important opportunity to practice vital skills — interviewing and counseling.  In the ABA Client Counseling Competition, student competitors are given a one-line description of a client matter to research before the competition (this year’s topic was “Kindergarten through 12th Grade Education/School Law”). Then, on the day of the competition, the students interview a person playing the role of the client, soliciting the full range of facts from the client during an interview before a panel of three judges.  After the client leaves the room, the competitors discuss how they would proceed further in the hypothetical situation and make tentative plans in a post-interview session. Special thanks to Professor Janice Villiers, who played the lead role in organizing the competition, as well as Professors Paul Kirgis and Elayne Greenberg from the Carey Center and the students from the Dispute Resolution Society. Thanks, too, to the more than fifty individuals who served as judges and clients.

January 4, 2012

John Coughlin on Canon Law

Oxford University Press has just released the second of two recent books by canon law scholar (and former St. John’s faculty member) Fr. John Coughlin.  The first book, published last year, was an introduction to canon law titled Canon Law: A Comparative Study With Anglo-American Legal TheoryThe second, just released, is titled Law, Person, and Community: Philosophical, Theological, and Comparative Perspectives on Canon LawIn this book, Fr. Coughlin uses a comparative view of canon law — in particular, differing conceptions of the human person reflected in both canon law and secular legal theory — to explore the basic jurisprudential question “What is law?”  More about both books is available on the CLR Forum here and here.  Congratulations, John.

December 20, 2011

Christmas comes to the Law School

Yesterday was the last day of scheduled exams at the Law School.  Today, a few students took make-ups.  By tomorrow, the semester that began back in mid-August will have concluded.  Faculty are grading, students are celebrating and resting, and all are readying for the holidays.  I want to take this time to offer congratulations to our students — especially to our 1Ls who have completed a major step on their path to the profession — and to offer holiday wishes to the entire St. John’s community.

Best wishes for a holiday filled with blessing, a recess filled with rest, and a New Year filled with joy.  I look forward to seeing you in 2012.  (And to Section C — I look forward to seeing you at 9 a.m. on January 9 for our first Criminal Law class!)

St. John's Winter Carnival Celebration on the Great Lawn

December 20, 2011

DA Janet DiFiore ’81 Named to Chair Ethics Commission


Janet DiFiore ’81

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently named Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore ’81 to head the state’s new government ethics watchdog, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.  As detailed in an article in yesterday’s New York Law Journal, by choosing a prosecutor to head the commission, Gov. Cuomo is signalling “a more aggressive approach to enforcing ethics guidelines” for state officials.

(DA DiFiore is part of a long tradition of St. John’s alums who have served New York as top prosecutors, including Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes ’61, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota ’66, and Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe ’79.)

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